Airbus insists it remains committed to building the A350-800 despite delaying its entry into service by two years, from the second half of 2014 to mid-2016.

The twinjet was originally due to arrive about a year after the first member of the A350 family, the -900, of which the -800 is a shrink variant.

Orders for the -800 peaked at around 180 three years ago but it has not secured new orders since, and some 25% of slots - a total of 42 aircraft from five customers - have subsequently been converted to the larger -900.

While Boeing opted to shelve the smallest member of its 787 family, the 787-3, Airbus said it had no plans to axe the A350-800.

Speaking at an EADS seminar ahead of the Paris air show, Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy said the airframer was "absolutely" going to build the -800.

"We have a bunch of customers," he said. "There is a market there. We still think there's a market for an airplane bigger than the A330-300."

Airbus chief operating officer Fabrice Bregier acknowledged that several customers had opted to move up to the -900, but said that this took the pressure off Airbus to deliver the aircraft early.

He said that pushing back the entry into service to 2016 would relax the pressure on resources at the airframer. Final assembly for the -800 would begin at the end of 2014, with first flight in the third quarter of 2015.

Leahy insisted that the A350 was in "pretty good shape" and said: "Nobody's cancelling [orders], everybody likes the programme."

He added: "The sweet spot in this market seems to be larger than our competitor thought it would be - in fact, larger than we thought it would be."

Airbus has 140 orders for the -800, alongside 359 for the -900 and 75 for the -1000. Qatar Airways is the launch customer for all three variants.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news